Abarbanel on the Parsha

For the week ending 17 June 2017 / 23 Sivan 5777

Parshat Shlach

by Rabbi Pinchas Kasnett
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The Transgression of the Spies

This week’s Torah portion presents numerous and obvious difficulties. The nation is poised to enter the Land of Israel, a fertile and bountiful Land, promised to our Forefathers hundreds of years earlier. The people experienced one miracle after another when G-d had taken them out of Egypt and sustained them in a barren desert. Why does G-d tell Moshe to send spies to check out the Land? What could they possible discover that would make any difference to them?

Abarbanel maintains it was the people themselves who wanted to send the spies and have them report back to them directly. G-d knew that if they were prevented from sending spies they would be suspicious that the Land was not suitable. At the same time, if G-d allowed them to bypass Moshe and send the spies themselves, this would be seen as a rebellion against their leader. Therefore, Moshe, as G-d’s prophet, would send them, and they would report directly back to him.

In any case, there clearly was no need to send spies and it was evident that the faith of the people was not strong enough to deal with the looming challenge. The people knew that the direct Divine intervention they had been experiencing, such as the pillars of cloud and fire that directed them, and the manna that sustained them, would cease once they entered the Land. The responsibility to conquer the Land and sustain themselves in it would be in their own hands. They couched their request in purely military terms, which was more acceptable, but their real concern was much deeper. Their emphasis on tactics and strategy was merely a subterfuge for their more fundamental lack of trust in G-d about the worth of the Land in all respects, and their own worthiness to benefit from it. If their motivation was simply to prepare for a successful military campaign, one or two nameless spies would have been sufficient and prudent. But since Moshe understood their true motivation, he made sure to appoint respected leaders from each of the diverse tribes. In this way each tribe would be able to look out for its own unique interests. For this reason Moshe did not send a representative from the tribe of Levi, since they had no inheritance in the Land.

Their fundamental lack of faith in the desirability and importance of the Land of Israel is clearly evident from the initial words of the spies when they returned from their mission: “We came to the Land to which you sent us.” They should have said, “… to which the L-rd our G-d gave to us,” or “to the Land which G-d promised to our Forefathers.” It was their opinion that they were not worthy of this gift, and they thus did not have an overwhelming desire to go and see it in the first place.

This fundamental disconnect from their unique connection to the Land of Israel clouded all of their perceptions and interpretations of what they saw and experienced during their forty days in the Land.

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